Dell's buying frenzy might not be over yet

Dell's buying frenzy might not be over yet

Company pushing toward a greater focus on enterprise IT.

While Dell's recent string of new acquisitions probably won't continue at the same breakneck pace that has been seen over the past several weeks, experts agree that the company is in the midst of a major strategic shift.

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Although Dell has undoubtedly picked up the pace of late, Gartner research director Adrian O'Connell says the company's acquisitive pattern dates back several years. The current trend, he argues, started with Dell's purchase of SAN vendor Equallogic in 2007, and is focused on pushing the company toward a greater focus on enterprise IT.

"We tend to talk about 'old Dell' and 'new Dell' in terms of the different faces of the company," he said.

Dell's acquisitions since the Equallogic deal have focused primarily on virtualization technology and systems integration and management. These include Perot Systems, KACE Networks, and Boomi, in addition to the latest string of buys - AppAssure, SonicWall, Wyse, Clerity and Made - which have all been announced since February 24.

While it's impossible to say for sure, Dell is unlikely to be finished with its buying spree, though the current pace of acquisitions will almost certainly drop.

"[Dell] looks for small to mid-sized companies that have some sort of technology value-add," O'Connell said. Larger firms, he adds, might be more difficult to integrate completely, so Dell will likely restrict its buying practices to more easily digestible fare.

Nevertheless, according to EMA managing research director Steve Brasen, the Texas-based computer company has more ground to cover in its bid to outdo competitors HP and IBM.

"There are still a number of holes they need to fill in infrastructure management," he says, citing data center infrastructure as a major example.

"If you look at IBM and HP in particular ... they all have infrastructure management solutions in place today, and Dell really hasn't been competing in that particular area," Brasen said. Given the tendency of large customers in particular to look for one-stop shopping options when it comes to IT, this shortfall is likely costing Dell some business.

Hidden advantages

But even if IBM and HP have a leg up currently, Dell's acquisitions and pre-existing position in the market could provide a surprising boost to its prospects.

Many of Dell's competitors, according to O'Connell, have existing, high-margin products that could be threatened by the rise of more modularized architectures. They therefore have to be careful not to undercut their own profits as they move forward.

Dell, on the other hand, has no such need to worry about cannibalization and can expand as aggressively as it wants into that space without compromising the profitability of other areas of its business.

"Dell is doing a pretty good job of things at the moment," O'Connell says, citing growth in the company's margins and revenues. Despite its shifting priorities, the firm's core client computing business has not been neglected and remains an important source of income.

According to Brasen, the competition may even have further structural problems that Dell could capitalize on.

"For several years, we heard lots of talk about these uber-solutions that IBM and HP were creating - one unified management platform to support everything - [but] the problem with that is that most enterprises don't need most of that stuff," he asserts.

"The best approach is a modular approach, where [users] can acquire just those packages that they need, but that are integrated together so that they utilise the same consoles for management; the same agents on the endpoints," Brasen said.

That said, however, both experts contend that much will hinge on how Dell positions itself in the marketplace and how the company sells its products to a consumer base that might not view it as a market leader yet.

While the fine details may be unclear, it seems certain that Dell's aggressive retooling, backed by heavy activity in the acquisitions market, is likely to continue. HP and IBM may need to bring more innovations of their own to the table in order to stay in front.

Email Jon Gold at and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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